Mike Bove

Rats Live on No Evil Star

It turned out they were eating birdseed
that fell from the feeders while 
Cardinals and finches came and went. 
We watched them slide out from under the deck
at dusk to collect all they could before
booking it to the woodpile. 
So I took the feeders down, raked up
the fallen seed, thinking I could
drive them away with deprivation. 
Four nights in a row that week 
my son couldn’t fall asleep, but it had nothing 
to do with rats. He was anxious
and grew panicked as hours passed 
and the rest of us slipped into sleep. 
Fear must’ve fed itself as he waited in bed, 
awake and alone night after night. I didn’t know
what to do. I worked at empathy, which 
usually came easy, but he was thirteen 
and spent daylight hours muttering 
and stomping off. More nights passed, days, 
until one morning at the kitchen window
I saw a rat nosing the lawn where the seed 
had been. Searching in clear daylight,
tense and desperate. I called my son
to come with me and we snuck outside, 
back around the house, but the rat
saw us and bolted. We split and jumped,
sudden herders, trying to keep it from 
getting into the garage. No more than
ten seconds in all, our hearts beating fast 
and his glorious howl when I shrieked
as the rat dove past my boot and disappeared
beneath the neighbor’s fence. He tired himself 
laughing but still couldn’t fall asleep that night. 
I sat with him and told him 
the longest palindrome I knew,
rats live on no evil star,
and suggested he work it in his head
back and forth letter by letter until sleep came,
imagining kind rats, loving and loyal,
bounding through the ether on a celestial quest.
I don’t think it solved anything; he still 
had a hard time many nights after. But he
eventually did sleep that night, and so did I,
and days moved into weeks, punctuated 
by the usual dailiness. Soon I put the feeders 
back up, the finches and Cardinals happy 
to have them, and though I know they were 
likely still there, lurking in the night beneath
the sky’s distant galaxies as my son struggled 
to sleep, we never saw another rat. 


***

Mike Bove is the author of two full-length books of poetry: Big Little City (2018) and House Museum (2021). He lives with his family in Portland, Maine.